Art of Quilting column, July 26, 2009

Iron maiden fuses learning with laughter

An esteemed faculty member of the famous Chicago School of Fusing flew into Grand Junction earlier this month and immediately had close to 300 quilt makers in stitches — in both senses of the word’s meaning.

Between Laura Wasilowski’s hilarious anecdotes, her lively Power Point presentation and her tongue-in-cheek singing, she actually had quilters dancing the polka in the aisles.

Some of us had tears in our eyes from laughing as Wasilowski described herself as a serial quilter, then showed photos of herself holding a sign with a prisoner identification number on it.

But seriously folks, she was describing how she likes to explore one subject in multiple quilts. Her examples include chickens, houses, kitchen appliances, chairs, garden tools and flowers.

“I have a perennial garden in my backyard, so I have quilts based on that,” Wasilowski said.

She also enjoys naming her quilts after family members, hence the floral versions humorously titled “Betty’s Bloomers” after her sister Betty Smith, who happens to live in Grand Junction.

Smith accompanied Wasilowski to her quilt lectures and seemed to take the sisterly ribbing in stride.

Parodies and words with double meanings, such as bloomers, give Wasilowski the giggles.

So much so that she often builds her art quilts around linguistics (or do I mean semantics?).

Of course, she jumped at the chance to participate in an oxymoron quilt challenge
and chose the theme “Rolling Stop.”

“Twice I’d gotten a ticket for making a rolling stop at the same intersection,” she explained.

Each one cost her $50, making a lasting impression.

The quilt she made instead pokes fun at her inability to stop eating tantalizing desserts and features a rolling pin.

As the dean of corrections at the mythological university known as the Chicago School of

Fusing, Wasilowski travels nationally and internationally to teach fusing etiquette, the wonders of Wonder Under (a paper-backed adhesive web that turns any fabric into a fusible fabric) and various collage building, weaving techniques and other textural devices.

“I’m a fuser,” she says proudly.

The art quilts Wasilowski makes generally are small wall hangings, and her tool of choice is a sturdy steam iron rather than a sewing machine. It’s the heat of that iron that causes the glue on paper to adhere to cloth, thus allowing layers of cloth to stick together.

She does, however, do some free-motion quilting by machine after all the fabric pieces have been assembled.

Wasilowski also enhances her quilts with hand embroidery, using brightly colored floss and pearl cotton that she dyes herself.

“I’ve been dyeing for 30 years,” Wasilowski likes to say when describing her home-based business, Artfabrik.

She hand-dyes yards and yards of rich, vibrant fabric, which she sells along with her hand-dyed threads.

She describes fusing as a direct way of working — fast and easy.

“There is no need to worry about washing or using” her style of quilts, Wasilowski says.

“Their only purpose is to be seen.”

Her art quilts are often seen at top quilt shows around the country, and many are award winners. Wasilowski has written books on her fusible quilts, too.

The most recent issue of Quilters Newsletter magazine includes an article written by Wasilowski titled “Digital Photo Books for Quilters.” It seems she’s always pushing boundaries.

Because of Wasilowski and her Chicago co-horts, fused art quilts have earned recognition and respect among quilters today. Some might say their technique is a major advance in the industry, like going from the propeller airplane to the jet.

It certainly works well for the self-professed iron maiden Wasilowski, so well that she led two groups of workshop students in Grand Junction with the School of Fusing Fight Song:

“Press on, Chicago Fuse

“We are the ones that get the artwork hung,

“Press on, Chicago Fuse,

“We are the ones for whom the praise is sung;

“They’ll never know how fast we made it,

“Our edges free and stuck for ages.

“Press on, Press on and on and on.”

With a fight song like that, students at ol’ Quilt State U don’t stand a chance.

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